Brad Richter has established himself in the world of music as an exceptional guitarist as well as an accomplished composer. Apart from his performing career Richter has built a very successful guitar
studio, in which he teaches a number of promising young guitarists. We welcome you to this exclusive interview for GuitarraMagazine.com
For more information about Brad Richter go to www.bradrichter-guitar.com
GM: I would like to begin by asking you about your background.
Where did your interest in music come from? Who has influenced and
inspired you in your growth as an artist?
BR: My mother’s side of my family has several musicians in it. Most of them had pretty much stopped playing by the time I was old enough to be aware, but their respect for and joy from music was clear. I think I gleaned an interest from them.
I was self-taught for the first 6 or 7 years I played guitar. I wanted to play the music my friends and I were listening to, so my earliest influences were Rock guitarists – Jimmy Page, Jimmi Hendrix and Brian May.
When I was 16 I heard a concert by Michael Hedges in my home town of Enid, Oklahoma. It changed my musical life. I was so excited by the multiple layers of sound he created and the unusual sonorities he drew out of the guitar that I immediately dropped the electric for an acoustic and then shortly after, a classical guitar. Michael was also from Enid, by the way. I didn’t see him much but he had a huge impact on my development. My biggest influences as a classical guitarist have to be my primary teachers – Paul Henry and Carlos Bonell. Compositionally it was Leo Brouwer, Aaron Copland, Maurice Ravel, Igor Stravinsky, Agustín Barrios, Joaquín Rodrigo and Timothy Salter, who was my primary composition teacher at the Royal College of Music.
GM: I know you are quite a lover of nature and the outdoors. How
does your music reflect this personal passion towards nature?
BR: I do love the outdoors. As often as I can – several hours each day when the weather is right – I do my composing and practicing outside, sometimes in quite isolated places in the mountains and deserts around Tucson. Most of the music I write has a program that reflects or pays tribute to nature in some way. It’s a practical approach in that having an extra musical theme about which I want to compose provides a framework that can help give a piece cohesiveness and direction. Aesthetically it’s a good fit to. I think nature can be expressed so profoundly with music and particularly with guitar because of its subtlety and color palette.
GM: How did you come to the decision of building a career based
mainly on music of your own authorship, and what has been the public’s
response to this choice?
BR: It was what I was driven to do from the time I began to play. I taught myself to play guitar early on by writing songs and have always felt like I was as much a composer as a guitarist. My first professional success was through composition. When I was still in college Paul Henry began playing The Harvest in his concerts and shortly after I finished up at the Royal College of Music GSP published The Harvest, Eight Preludes and Fractal Reflections. Since then the ratio of my music to standard repertoire in my concerts has been steadily slipping in favor of my own pieces because more and more that’s what venues are asking for.
GM: Please tell us about the project that you have established and in
which you work with Native American students.
BR: For the last six years I’ve been doing a residency at Page High School in Northern Arizona with at-risk Navajo students. It has evolved into a 60 member performing guitar orchestra, workshops, lessons, a scholarship fund and The Canyon Country Guitar Retreat, for which I take highly at-risk students on a camping, guitar playing, backpacking, and kayaking adventure on Lake Powell. It’s one of the things in my career that I’m most proud of. There are so many talented young guitarists on the reservation. Guitar playing has become a cultural staple there and It’s a thrill for me to get to help broaden their musical horizons a little. We’ve had several students who’ve come back to school after having dropped out in order to participate in the guitar programs two of whom recently won significant scholarships. Seeing results like that is particularly rewarding.
GM: I understand that a television documentary about your project
has been produced and soon will be broadcast nationally. Please tell
us more about it.
BR: The film is produced by Cheryl Francis, and directed by Dan Duncan (who also directs The Desert Speaks on PBS). It follows the lives of 8 of the students in my program in Page as they become better guitarists but more importantly cope with their sometimes very difficult daily lives. The film crew followed us through all of our rehearsals and lessons and on the kayaking and camping trip. It was all done in high definition and there’s lots of great footage of the canyon lands. It’s likely to air on PBS sometime in the late Spring but we won’t know for sure until next month.
GM: You have recently performed at the 2005 London International
Guitar Festival, next to other important figures such as John
Williams, Alirio Diaz, Pavel Steidl, and Carlos Bonell. How was your
experience in such an important venue?
BR: I loved it. I was honored to be featured with such legendary guitarists. At my concert Carlos, Alirio Diaz, Pavel Steidl and Xuefei Yang along with several other great London guitarists and press were all seated in the first few rows. It literally took my breath away for a second to see those familiar faces in the audience. I had a blast playing. My hands felt very good, I was in my best playing shape, the hall sounded exquisite and I was premiering a fantastic guitar by Trevor Semple who had designed an innovative new instrument for the occasion. It was one of my favorite performance experiences.
GM: You are now playing a new composite guitar. Who made this
instrument and how is it different from a standard classical guitar?
BR: Trevor’s guitar is a wonderful experiment in merging the volume of lattice braced, carbon reinforced guitars with a warmer more natural tone and color range. It works beautifully. Some of the most interesting features of the guitar are: a back made entirely of carbon fiber (no wood), ebony reinforced sides, an inner panel made of high density aircraft foam (which bears the weight of the strings in order to allow the soundboard to vibrate more), a bolt on fully adjustable neck and a soundboard that is 6/10 of a millimeter thin over much of its area. Trevor also works for the British Space Agency and infused the guitar with developments he gleaned from his work in Nano-Technology.
GM: What are your current projects in terms of performing,
composing and teaching? How can we find out about your touring
BR: The Lake Bonneville Project with Weber State University in Ogden, Utah is my primary focus right now. The Office of Cultural Affairs there has commissioned me to compose a piece that pays tribute to Lake Bonneville, the ancient inland sea that preceded and eventually shrunk to become The Great Salt Lake. The University has also commissioned poet Ken Brewer, artist Mark Biddle and science writer Adolph Yonkee to produce work inspired by the lake. Our contributions will be collected in a letter press edition CD/Book set released next Fall.
The composition itself is about 30 minutes long. The instruments and performers in the piece are guitar, voice (mezzo – soprano), cello, percussion (world and indigenous percussion instruments and animal sounds), speaker/narrator, and choir. The heart of the composition is five songs using Ken Brewer’s rich and descriptive poetry as lyrics. The premiere is April 21st at WSU.
I also have a new book/CD set out with Mel Bay (The Brad Richter Solo Collection) and a book/CD set of children’s music pending with Acoustic Music Records.
GM: Brad, thank you for sharing this wonderful interview with us!